Great Britain’s women came up short on their debut at the Olympic Games, losing 74-58 to Australia.
The Opals, powered by Lauren Jackson, went on a 13-0 run to start the second quarter, holding GB scoreless for over five minutes as they constructed a 29-11 lead.
But a 7-2 rally, polished off by a three-pointer from Chantelle Handy, slahsed the gap to 37-26 at half-time.
Britain began to swarm the Aussies to attempt to break their offensive rhythm as Jackson and Liz Cambage sat on the bench with foul trouble.
It was not enough to derail the 2008 silver medallists and, after taking a 57-42 advantage into the final quarter, they maintained their composure to start their quest to reach a fourth straight Olympic final with a convincing victory.
Julie Page, caught in a skirmish with Jackson, fouled out with 7:39 left with 8 points and 7 rebounds.
And with Jo Leedham, who matched Rachael Vanderwal with 11 points, unable to inspire a rally, Tom Maher’s side must now look for their maiden Games win against Canada on Monday.
“It was a really good game for us to start with and get a feel for playing in this arena,” said Page.
“So even if we had a shaky start, we can build on this.”
With a passionate home crowd behind them, emotions were running high to begin. Australia’s main threat Liz Cambage scored first plus drawing the foul on Stef Collins who injured her knee in the process. She would return later in the quarter.
GB attacked the 6’8 Cambage early and the plan worked as she would sit on the bench for the remainder of the first period on two early fouls. Natalie Stafford connected from mid-range and a bucket from Leedham gave GB a 7-6 lead as the 8,000 crowd at the Olympic Basketball Arena roared them on.
The Aussies hit back, and led 11-7 on the back of a fluke three-pointer from Jenna O’Hea, Seattle Storm forward Lauren Jackson scored the last five points of the first to give Australia a 16-11 lead after the first.
GB were held scoreless for the first five minutes of the second period as Australia would continue their scoring which peaked at 18-0 before Page connected on a tough lay-up in traffic.
The hosts showed promise, attacking the medal hopefuls as Cambage picked up her third foul for the Aussies, but unfortunately for GB, Jackson was in sublime form, she connected on a long-range two-pointer to give Australia a 35-19 lead as she hit 15 first-half points.
Team GB stepped up their offensive credentials, Azania Stewart and Page connected to trim the gap to 35-23, as the crowd chanted for Tom Maher’s side.
Suzy Batkovic hit for Australia which was replied by a three from Chantelle Handy as both teams went into the half with Australia up 37-26.
Batkovic opened the third quarter as Australia took 43-28 lead early thanks to a jumper from Jackson. GB quickened the tempo of the contest, and scored two quick fast-break points to force Aussie coach Carrie Graf to call a timeout – Great Britain pulled it back to 45-34 with four minutes of the third played.
GB tried to up the tempo of the game once more and attacked Jackson to good effect, as Australia’s number 15 sat due to foul trouble. A bucket from Page reduced the gap to 51-40.
The decibel levels rose again inside the Basketball Arena.
Australia though responded, and ended the third with a 6-2 run to lead 57-42, going into the fourth.
O’Hea got the final period started with a three-point play as the Aussies looked to put the game fully out of GB’s reach. But the hosts fought back; a three from Rachael Vanderwal and buckets from Stewart reduced the gap to 66-53.
Australia though never let their double-digit lead slip though, making sure that GB begin their Olympic adventure with a defeat.
Despite defeat, Stewart, who hit eight points was upbeat, as she shared the same wavelength with regard to the performance.
“It was a great start for us obviously playing Australia was going to be a tough game for us but we’re just getting our feet wet,” she said.
Elsewhere, the USA had to come from behind to defeat Croatia 81-56, using a 16-0 run in the fourth quarter to ease their fears at the start of their title defence.
Angola’s first ever game in the Olympic Games ended in a 72-50 defeat to Turkey, who never looked back after going 13-0 in front.
Becky Hammon hit 8 of her team-best 14 points in a late stretch to inspire a fourth quarter fightback as Russia saw off Canada 58-53 and France overcame Brazil 73-58. While in the opening game, China upset the Czech Republic 66-57.
Group B: GB v Australia (10.15pm)
Other Games: China 66-57 Czech Rep, Canada 53-58 Russia, Turkey 72-50 Angola, USA 81-56 Croatia, Brazil 58-73 France
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